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Barack and the Buchanan Presidency

Posted by Greg on Nov 25, 2009 in Op-Ed

Barack and the Buchanan Precedent
By Dr. Marvin Folkertsma

Presidential comparisons that greeted Barack Obamas election ranged from the sublime to the transcendent. He was variously described as the second coming of John F. Kennedy, a re-embodiment of Franklin Roosevelt, and even a budding Abraham Lincolna sort of Savior-in-Chief to rescue an aggrieved nation from the Dantesque tribulations of his predecessor. Mr. Obamas public pronouncements signaled his determination to abrogate George W. Bushs policies and send us all back upon paths of righteousness. And that was before the new president had even done anything.

Well, now President Obama has done quite a number of things, which bring to mind other analogies, some of which lurk beneath the worship continuum. Before Roosevelt there was Herbert Hoover, and before Lincoln there was James Buchanan, both of whom share the dishonor of being ranked among the countrys worst presidents, as Nathan Miller pointed out a decade ago in a perky book entitled Star-Spangled Men. About Hoover, much has been written; but it is President Buchanan who presents a really interesting case.

Millers review suggests that presidents fail because they are clueless or spineless or both. James Buchanan was both. Among the most reviled in the heap, he exhorted Supreme Court justices to deliver what was arguably the most disastrous court decision in American historyDred Scott v. Sanfordand in the process egregiously violated constitutional integrity and the separation of powers. Buchanan lambasted Congress for not passing the notoriously pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution that would have admitted Kansas as slave state into the Union. To get his way he resorted to political thuggery: promises of cash to his supporters and dismissal of officials who opposed him. All to no avail; Congress defeated the measure anyway. A later vote in bleeding Kansas resulted in the defeat of the Lecompton plan by a margin of about nine to one, a result that surprised him. Cluelessness.

And when Southern States seceded one by one, Buchanan dithered and temporized, declaring such acts unconstitutional, but unlike Andrew Jackson before him and Abraham Lincoln after him, he did nothing. Spinelessness throughout. All this from a man who believed that defusing the time bomb over slavery would rank him at the level of George Washington, a hope that goes beyond cluelessness.

This is the danger of the Obama presidency, as Barack Obama juggles a half dozen major bills along with several foreign-policy challenges, any one of which risk failure that could damage his presidency severely, if not destroy it altogether. Since the summer especially, Obamas executive style has been carefully documented with increasing alarm by president-watchers, even those who are sympathetic to his goals. Thus, on healthcare, Mr. Obama has insisted on reconstructing the entire industry in spite of the fact that all but a minority of Americans have insurance, and by large margins are satisfied with their coverage. Ghosts of Lecompton haunt this figure.

In foreign policy, Obama has courted dictators, spurned Americas traditional allies, and curried favor with adversaries such as the Medvedev-Putin duo by caving to their objections over a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republicapparently in hopes that appeasing the Russian bear will bear fruit in negotiations with Iran. Such spinelessness did not go unnoticed by the Iranians, who responded with missile-firing contempt. Finally, the presidents vacillation over Afghanistan while carbon-foot-printing his way to that other Euro-Superpower, Denmark, apparently to seek advice from Hamlet on executive decision making, hardly speaks well for his quest to find the buck that stops somewhere in the vicinity of the Oval Office. Its hard to see how old Public Functionary Buchanan could have done worse.

The implications of these actions seem to escape President Obama, and therein lies the chief danger to his presidency. He could take a lesson from another predecessor to a favored president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Neither flashy nor eloquent, Ike actually had a life before writing about it and knew the world is not a global version of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Further, he possessed the good judgment not to inflict ambitious programs onto a population weary of war and the previous incumbent, much like Americans in 2008 who were tired of conflict and of George W. Bush. Initial reviews of Ikes terms in office were unenthusiastic; more recently, his stature has risen among mature scholars who do not equate presidential greatness with increased federal power.

The question for President Obama is less about whom he resembles among the great ones; rather, it is about which among the others will be staring him in the face when he completes his term in office: Hoover, Eisenhower, or Buchanan?

Dr. Marvin Folkertsma is a professor of political science and Fellow for American Studies with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is the author of several books. His latest release is a high-energy novel titled “The Thirteenth Commandment.”

 
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Psyching Out the Stock Market

Posted by Greg on Nov 13, 2009 in Op-Ed

Psyching Out the Stock Market
By Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson

It is usually the stock market that psyches us out, not the other way around.

Theres something about stocks that turns us upside down. For example, normally when something goes on sale, we tend to buy more of it; yet, when stock prices fall, many investors want to buy less.

This reminds me of Baron Rothschilds advice to buy when there is blood in the streets. Those who heeded that advice last winter and bought stocks on sale during the depths of the selling panic are sitting on some handsome profits now. As it happened, a relative called me then and said, I just sold all my stocks. I couldnt stand watching the prices fall.

Had I been an astute investor, I would have loaded up on stocks at fire-sale prices after that phone call. I remember wondering whether I should increase my modest holdings of a stock that had crashed to multi-year lows, but I didnt pull the trigger. That stock has risen seven-fold since then. Oh well, at least I didnt sell it.

The purpose in telling you this is to demonstrate that I am not a stock-market wiz. As an economist, though, people inevitably ask me to predict the stock market. They shouldnt. In the first place, my interest is in public policy and how to preserve our freedoms. I dont find a daily study of stock-market gyrations remotely interesting. In the second place, even those who devote their full time to studying markets are frequently humbled when the market confounds their expectations. The reason is simple: individual stocks and market indexes will rise if more people want to buy them than sell them, and fall if more people want to sell. Question: How can anyone know what millions of other people will choose to do on any given day of the week or any year on the calendar?

Now that Ive made that disclaimer, here is how I responded to a request for a prediction in late spring when the Dow was at about 8,000: Greg Wheatley, the host of Moody Broadcasting’s “Prime Time America,” asked me during a radio interview to predict a range for the Dow by mid-2010. After reminding the listening audience that my prediction was worth what they were paying for it (i.e., zilch), I ventured a guestimatea range of 11,000 on the upside and 5,000 on the downside.

My sense was that the market was not done bouncing up from last winters lows. Recently, the Dow has been bouncing around the 10,000 level. It may or may not climb that last 1,000 points to 11,000. I would say its possible, on a momentum basis, but on the basis of economic fundamentals, the market seems closer to a top than to a bottom.

It is important to remember, however, that the paper economy of the stock market is a different animal from the real economy that I study. It is possible that the stock market will continue to trend higher without the benefit of an underlying strong economy. The largest component of our economy is consumer spending (although President Obama and his team seem determined to make government spending number one). This year, total hours worked and total income have fallen and savings have increased, so its hard to picture booming businesses sporting rising profits and stock prices.

Furthermore, banks are not lending. For over five months now, bank lending has declined every week. Consumer, industrial, and real-estate loans have dropped a net $216 billion. That represents a 15 percent yearly rate of credit contraction. In the past, credit has always been expanding at the end of a recession.

With these market conditions, where is economic robustness going to come from?

As Ive written before, Team Obama is pursuing policies similar to those that FDR adopted during the Great Depression. Even though those policies prolonged the Depression, there were several major bull markets within the horrible bear market of the 1930s. If history repeats itself, it wouldnt surprise me if we have a severe bear market by next summer. Dow 5000my off-the-cuff guess of a few months agoseems unlikely now with the market near 10,000, but I dont think the stock market is out of the woods yet.

Now, what could blow my prediction (I mean, guess) out of the water? In the first place, it can be foolhardy to bet against the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Americans. They always find ways to produce wealth, if the government lets them. Also, the Federal Reserves injections of massive amounts of liquidity (sorry, in plain English, money) into the financial system may drive stocks far higher. During Zimbabwes recent hyperinflation, Zimbabweans perceived stocks as an inflation hedge; consequently, many stock prices soared, even as hyperinflation devastated their real economy.

Will the same thing happen here? I dont know. The only thing I know for sure is that Mr. Market will do his thing independent of what economists and financial experts want, leaving a trail of human smiles and tears in his wake.

Good luck, everyone.

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

 
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Remembering the Aleutian Campaign

Posted by Greg on Nov 6, 2009 in Op-Ed

The Forgotten Battle of World War II:
Remembering the Aleutian Campaign
By Dr. Paul Kengor

Every Veterans Day presents an opportunity to commemorate those who served in some faraway place long ago, many of whom paid that ultimate sacrifice. World War II offers its share of remembrances: Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941; Normandy, June 6, 1944; the Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944; to name a few.

Sadly, however, one series of battles continues to be ignored.

On June 3, 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, located at the Aleutian Islands, west of the Alaskan peninsula. Three days later, they landed on the islands of Kiska and Attu, culminating in the only battles of the war fought in North America. Many of the men there went through hell.

Remarkably, the battle is barely known.

One person who has not forgotten is renowned World War II historian, Donald Goldstein. Goldstein, a retired University of Pittsburgh professor, authored one of the only books on the campaign, called the Williwaw War, named for the freezing, high-velocity winds flowing from Siberia and the Bering Sea, which made service in the Aleutians a constant misery.

“It was strategically very important who controlled those islands,” says Goldstein. The Americans stationed there “kept the Japanese from the West Coast and from invading the U.S. mainland…. From a strategic point of view, you can’t underestimate the situation there. Look at a map! The Aleutians aren’t very far from Seattle.”

In the Aleutians, American troops battled not only the Japanese, but debilitating weather and boredom. To combat the fierce and unpredictable williwaws, soldiers leaned forward as they walked, before falling on their faces as the winds abruptly ended. They battled blinding, waste-deep snow, dense fog, sleet that felt like a sandblaster.

To escape the climate, troops spent hours inside. The boredom was so bad that some drank anything they could find. There were stories of casualties from “torpedo juice.” Morale was awful.

“War is boredom mixed with moments of stark terror,” says Goldstein. “You sit and wait. And then all at once it comes.”

And when it came to the Aleutians, it came with ferocity. Shortly after bombing Dutch Harbor, the Japanese took Attu and Kiska. Thirteen months later, in August 1943, American forces sought to drive them out. Kiska was easy, since Japanese forces had bailed out two weeks earlier. Attu, however, was another story.

Attu was taken back only after a horrible fight. Japan fought to the last man. Facing defeat, 500 Japanese soldiers committed suicide with their own grenades. Whereas Dutch Harbor witnessed fewer than 100 casualties, U.S. burial patrols at Attu counted 2,351 Japanese bodies. Total U.S. casualties were 3,829549 killed. Some believe it was the bloodiest battle of World War II.

And yet, few Americans have heard of the battle. Notes Goldstein: “Even [at the time] there was hardly any press coverage. If you ask most people today where Attu is they have no idea…. It’s forgotten.”

Do the veterans of this campaign feel neglected?

“Oh, yes,” says Goldstein. “They’re bitter. These guys never got the credit they deserve.”

Many of the unrecognized survivors suffered premature deaths once they got home. One was Andrew Boggs Covert, a tall, lanky fellow who had worked at Pullman Standard in Butler, Pennsylvania prior to the war. Boggs found himself drafted into the Marines Corps as a 30-year-old with seven children. His surviving son, Jim, recalls riding to Pittsburgh to say goodbye to his father in 1942.

It was not a permanent goodbye, as Andrew survived the brutal combat. He told me about some of the hand-to-hand stuff, says his son today. It was traumatic. But he was matter of fact: Do it, take care of it, serve your country, get over it.

Still, getting over it was not that easy. Andrew died in October 1966 at age 54.

A survivor who outlived Andrew was Leonard Levandoski of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a member of the 11th Fighter Squadron, who spent two grueling years at Attu.

A few years back, while writing for a newspaper, I tried to track down Leonard on a tip from the Department of Veterans Affairs: This guy is perfect for you to interview, said the press person. Every year he writes letters-to-the-editor trying to get people to remember what happened. Hell be thrilled to get your call.

When I called, Leonards wife, Geraldine, answered. Who is this? she said slowly. When I gave my name and purpose, Geraldine began to cry. Leonard just passed away, she told me. He waited years for someone to call.

Many of those veterans have now passed away. The years have slowly faded, with no one calling about the Aleutians. It is about time we remember.

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His books include “The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand” and “The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism.”

 
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Open Letter to Barack Obama

Posted by Greg on Nov 6, 2009 in Op-Ed

Mr. President, Do Not Let Dreams Die in Your Hands

Dear President Barack Obama,

On the eve of your visit to China, we urge you to take a firm stand on human rights issues to reaffirm to the world the core values of the United States of America and its dedication to those values.

Dear Mr. President, you challenged Americans to enact a change, and Americans have responded and sent you to the White House to be the catalyst of change. You took the message of change to Europe, and Europeans have responded and reengaged with the leader of the free world.

We now challenge you: Will you bring change to the US policy toward China, a policy of economic engagement that has tainted our nation’s image for the past twenty years, or will you maintain the status quo?

The United States’ engagement with China originally donned a pretext of helping to improve China’s human rights. Over time, however, its true motive and consequence has emerged: with the passing of one so-called opportunity after another to improve human rights in China, including the granting of PNTR to China, the admission of China into the WTO, and the Beijing Olympics, more and more Chinese people have fallen victim to the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses. As such, this policy has turned into our nation’s worst example of hypocrisy, and the complete lack of acknowledgement of and accountability for its failure also makes it our worst example of irresponsible politics.

At the same time the US has been losing its moral standing. The former Soviet bloc was far more powerful then than China is now, and it took thirty-eight years for the Berlin Wall to fall. The US was never weak or vulnerable during the Cold War, and was a source of inspiration and hope for people in Eastern Europe. Now the US is not only increasingly timid about mentioning human rights to China, it is on its knees supplicating China to buy its debt. Internationally, the US has helped to fund the Chinese regime to become a new anti-human rights ringleader and has to face it on multiple continents. Domestically, we are suffering the consequences of our own deeds: We ignored China’s suppression of workers’ unions, and we lose our jobs to China’s slave laborers who work under unsafe conditions; we ignore China’s persecution of Christians and Falun Gong practitioners who merely want their right to conscience, and we receive unconscionable toxic products from China.

Most alarmingly, we are losing sight of our real national interest – our American values. Had Abraham Lincoln not been so dedicated to the founding principles of America, had he instead carried on a policy of economic engagement with the South, rationalizing that the profit would somehow trickle down in the form of greater freedom for the slaves, that would be equivalent to today’s China policy, and there would be no President Obama. Today, our founding principles and values have eroded to the point where we have accepted a China policy based on greed rather than principle for the past twenty years.

Mr. President, in those twenty years how many of China’s Obamas have been locked up and lynched in jail? How many of China’s Obamas have been exiled to the US and cannot go back home to pursue their dreams? Over the globe, how many Obamas have suffered under various regimes that remain in power only because of the support of the Chinese regime?

Mr. President, we take it to heart when you claim Lincoln as your role model, so we ask you to carry on Abraham Lincoln’s legacy to give people in China and around the world the opportunity to see their Obama’s dream to come true.

Please do not let Obama’s dream die in your hands.

Please Sign the Petition to the President:
http://www.consciencefoundation.org/index.php?option=com_rsmonials

This message was sent by: The Conscience Foundation, 3186 Adams Ave., Suite 202, San Diego, CA 92116

 
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Sacrificing Drinking Water for Clean Energy

Posted by Greg on Nov 4, 2009 in Op-Ed

Sacrificing Drinking Water for Clean Energy
By Chris Hedges

With coal and oil decried as dirty and blamed for global warming, natural gas is being touted as clean and green by industry and the Obama administration. Even the New York Times is on-board, proclaiming that new drilling technologies for extracting natural gas from formerly inaccessible shale bedrock may vastly expand global supplies.

But reports from across America are painting a different picture. This August in Pavillion, Wyoming, federal investigators found drinking water wells contaminated with highly toxic chemicals used by the new natural gas drilling processes. In September in Dimmick, Pennsylvania an 8,000-gallon gas drilling wastewater spill caused a major fish kill in Stephens Creek. And this month in Dish, Texas gas drilling was identified as the cause of carcinogenic and neurotoxic air pollution emissions violating state standards.

These events and others serve as a warning to communities being courted by the fossil fuel industry as it gears up to tap natural gas shale reserves in up to 31 states using new technologies’ horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

At the top of the list is New York state, where a just released Department of Environmental Conservation Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement is viewed by many as giving a green light to drill thousands of fracking wells in a vast swath reaching from the Catskills west to Lake Erie.

“The industry is calling the Southern Tier of New York state the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” says Wes Gillingham, program director of the Catskill Mountainkeeper environmental group. But this region is also the Saudi Arabia for clean drinking water, serving New York City, Philadelphia, western New Jersey and Delaware. Irreversible contamination of that watershed’s underground aquifer, he says, would be catastrophic, destroying the drinking water for fourteen million people.

But the oil industry wants the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas locked under the Marcellus Shale that runs across New York, through Pennsylvania into Ohio and West Virginia.

It takes 3 to 5 million gallons of water per well to drill down through the shale to the natural gas using the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. The water is mixed with resin-coated sand and a cocktail of hazardous chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, biocides and benzene to facilitate the fracturing of the shale to extract the gas.

The toxic brew is injected with extreme force deep within the earth. The drilling is vertical for the first 5,000 to 7,000 feet. Then new technology, developed by Halliburton, allows drills to abruptly turn sideways propelling toxic chemicals and sand horizontally for half a mile. The sand holds open the fissures created, and the gas flows to the surface in steel casings.

Much of the toxic water used to extract the natural gas is left underground, and could seep into groundwater. The rest is stored in huge open pits or tanks that dot the landscape at drilling sites, awaiting vast fleets of trucks to transport it to already overworked wastewater treatment facilities. Fully developed natural gas fields can include thousands of well pads, surrounded by mega-complexes of compressors, condensate pools, tanks, and mazes of feeder pipelines.

“Living with this type of infrastructure and development is difficult to imagine. You can feel and hear the compressor engines roaring,” says Kathy Chruscielski, a citizen activist with the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project. “It’s like living next to a 24 hour truck stop. Homeowners suddenly find themselves next door to an industrial zone with very little recourse at the federal and state levels.”

Such drilling has already poisoned wells, and threatened property values, in western Pennsylvania, Colorado, Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico, Kansas, Montana, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. Farm animals that have drunk the toxic mixture leeching from drilling sites have died. Colorado cattle ranchers report that livestock raised near wells have been victim to falling birthrates and deformed offspring, while anecdotal reports of increased human cancers near wells are increasing.

The natural gas companies insist that the millions of gallons of poisoned water left underground or stored in open pits pose no threat to watersheds. Let us hope they are right. The truth is, no one knows.

“What’s amazing is that we never seem to learn,” says Gillingham. “Whether it is PCBs or DDT, we always embrace these new technologies without invoking the precautionary principle.”

The natural gas companies, however, are taking no such risk. Their lobbyists ensured that the industry be exempted by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 from complying with the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.

So today, there is no federal oversight over horizontal drilling and fracking, and wholly inadequate state oversight. Meanwhile, the toxic fracking formulas used by the drilling companies are secret, and not released to the public.

We are simply told to trust the natural gas industry, as we were told to trust Wall Street.

© 2009 www.blueridgepress.com

Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Chris Hedges has spent nearly three decades as a journalist, working for The New York Times, National Public Radio and The Dallas Morning News. He lives in Princeton, NJ.

 
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Guest Editorial: Washington’s Masque of the Red Death

Posted by Greg on Nov 4, 2009 in Op-Ed

Washington’s Masque of the Red Death
By Dr. Marvin Folkertsma

New administrations normally inspire commentators into rummaging through a thesaurus to extract that single phrase or word that is apposite to the times. Instead musing about a reincarnation of The Square Deal, The New Deal, The Great Society, or the If-You-Thought-the-Others-Were-Something-Wait-Till-You-See-This Program, lets look at a writer who really had a taste for the extravagant, Edgar Allan Poe. No one beats this master of the macabre for delving into the remoter regions of the dark side that lurk in every soul. And without question, there’s enough macabre lurking in our nations capital today to satiate the weirdest among us.

So many poems, so many stories, so little space to use them all! Lets settle on The Masque of the Red Death and see where that leads us. The tale begins with Prince Prospero gathering a thousand of his friends into the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys to seal them from a pestilence, the Red Death, which had claimed half of his countrymen. Within this secure confine these masquerading waltzers revel in the company of buffoons and ballet dancers, while cavorting through chambers where a kaleidoscope of colors sprays ghastly patterns across walls and floors. In one room, a giant ebony clock looms over all, sounding its brazen lungs on the hour, causing temporary surcease of frivolities. Into this mix enters a masked figure, shrouded in the habiliments of the grave, with a physiognomy of a corpse dabbled in blood. His presence so enrages the prince that he assaults the stranger, only to drop dead in the encounter, as do all of his companions when they discover to their horror that the disembodied wraith was untenanted by any tangible form. At the last stroke of twelve, the ebony clock expires with the last of the gay.

What does this all mean? Poet Richard Wilbur explains that this windowless fortress represents a dream world whose inhabitants are free from the harshness of waking temporal consciousness, symbolized by the deathly figure draped in funereal garb speckled with blood. The ebony clock represents the inevitable countdown to the ruthless truth of reality, from which Poe spent his entire professional life trying to flee. Injecting the reality principle into the fantasies of the revelers destroys them and the world they inhabit.

So what does this have to do with politics? Plenty, especially if one no longer can make sense of stories about Washington’s revelers, whose antics defy normal categories of policy description and push to the farthest boundaries of political and economic sanity. A sampling: multi-trillion dollar deficits are projected for programs that somehow magically will save money, all while being opposed by a majority of the American people. Unemployment soars, in a world where fears of man-made global warming challenge Puff-the-Magic-Dragon for the award of the most favored fantasy of the decade. Charges are hurled against citizens who are regarded as cowards or children by those who haven’t the faintest idea of what lies outside the cocoon of Washington rhetoric. Patriots are prosecuted while psychopaths are protected; allies are betrayed, crucial decisions dithered on, adversaries appeased, dictators coddled, dissent dismissed with contempt and threatened by subtle hints of annihilation.

To some of us who once peppered our lawns with I Like Ike signs, whose eyes get watery with the sounds of patriotic music, and whose intellectual architecture includes John Phillip Sousa melodies and tales of Orson Wells attack of the Martians, it is all madness. It is Prince Prospero’s costumed specters whirling in masqueraded follies, insulated from the world and from the red death of reality. Even Poe would be challenged by such a lunatic environment; indeed, he should sue Washington for copyright infringement.

All of which leaves some with the feeling that what we are witnessing in our nations capital today simply cannot go on indefinitely; it is not sustainable, to use currently fashionable gibberish. A day of reckoning awaits us; or an apocalypse, call it what you will. Time and repetition have attenuated the shock value of facile comparisons to the Great Depression or banana republic economics. Something more profound is at work here, more disturbing. Call it deep anxiety, that creeping terror that hollowed out the souls of Poe’s characters, leaving them empty and quaking at the same time. Can a void tremble? Yes, it can, he taught us and experience confirms. Were waiting for the reality principle to assert its truth, for that doleful clock to strike its final note.

God help us all when that time arrives for America.

Marvin Folkertsma, Ph.D. is a professor of political science and Fellow for American Studies with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is the author of several books. His latest release is a high-energy novel titled “The Thirteenth Commandment.”

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